In the Northern Lebanese city of Tripoli there is what may, in the scale of conflicts ranging from world wars to skirmishes, be considered a relatively small conflict. This conflict however has the obvious connotations of a conflict which increases in size exponentially as you delve deeper into history and look at a greater context. A ‘small’ conflict seems entirely subjective in the scheme of things, something subject to the actors envolved and the passing of time, the analogy of ‘how long is a piece of string’ springs to mind. In Tripoli there is Sunni and Shia community who have been sporadically fighting each other for years, Tripoli has consistently not been a peaceful place, yet the recent unrest is as a result of a slightly different cause. At first look there is an obvious sectarian battle, which echoes the civil war raging in Syria and historically there is the Sunni, Shia religious divide.
When Sunni Imams in Lebanon call for a ‘moral duty’ to fight the Alawite government in Syria and Shia Imams call it a ‘moral duty’ to fight against the rebels in Syria, you have the exportation of communities local to each going to fight against each other in an region a matter of miles away. In this way the border between Syria and Lebanon means less and less as the fight can be fought at home and so the conflict spreads.
The desperate call for neutrality by Lebanese politicians is faced by a religious call for action. A core tenant of community, particularly in more rural areas globally, seems to be religion and so then the religious call is clearer than the political one.
Perhaps this shows to some degree a catch 22 situation in Lebanon, when a population that is ethnically mixed is confronted by regional sectarian strife the veneer of nationality is lost and the people revert to a core identity, which then becomes further entrenched by embattled distinction. Perhaps the greater regional view of Sunni’s versus the ‘Shia crescent’, which makes this conflict so much more dangerous, shows how greater Sunni and Shia interests are being played out in Syria and onto the streets of Lebanon in Tripoli.
In the Arab Spring’s ‘call for democracy’ now endorsed by the West there is implication of a duality, a paring with the fight against the ‘Shia crescent’ with Sunni Islam and a proxy war with Iran, Shia Islam’s greatest stronghold and deemed the greatest threat to Israel.
When searching the web for details of a defence agreement between Hezbollah, Syria and Iran the hits are typically western orientated, perhaps indicative of the level of literature produced by the west that floods the world with information, In fact the main hit for that search produced ‘The Triad of Terror’ from the American Lebanese Assembly which denotes Iran as the main global exporter of terrorism a statement which seems to go the way of sensationalist convenience. I wonder what bearing this has on community fighters in Tripoli when they load their machine guns and RPG’s.
When an ‘axis of evil’ represents the three major Shia powers the West contributes to the Sectarian distinction. The implications of sociopolitical policy compound the sectarian nature of the fighting and turn a regional war into a more global one which is then juxtaposed by Russian, U.S / Western interests at play. In turn the resolution to the fighting is by there being a victor and so the West has hedged its bets on the rebels. Certain calls of ‘creating another stronghold for Al Qaeda’ have been voiced and the battle lines of Iraq, post U.S invasion, are pertinent. So when a community, in the small city of Tripoli are roused by sectarian war on their doorstep into fighting, one can only wonder whether this is as far as the fire will spread. Sunni extremists in Syria threatened recently to burn Beirut if Hezbollah did not stop in Syria. What will happen to Lebanon post Assaad? The balance seems so precarious and spread of sectarian strife foments bleak predictions.